Through sun, rain and one big snow day, the first cohort of the Agile Leadership Academy (ALA) made it to graduation.  As we at LitheSpeed prepare to kick off the next round of the ALA program in September, we wanted to pause and reflect on what we learned through an invigorating first year.

A New Model

Though Sanjiv and I had been shaping an Agile leadership program in our minds for years, we were finally able to make it a reality in early 2016.  We chose to create a unique quarterly model based on our own experiences in other (non-agile) leadership programs, deciding that a single one or two-day class really wasn’t up to the task of launching an agile leader from scratch, and certainly not sufficient for those undertaking large-scale, long-term personal and organizational transformations.  We dedicated weeks to building content, testing and learning as we went along, and adapting from session to session as the year progressed based upon feedback from our cohort.  It was a Lean Startup style experiment for us, intense but ultimately thoroughly validated.

A Broader Perspective

Most agile learning programs focus strongly on the team, which of course is the heart of a delivery capability.  But increasingly, organizations have realized that focusing solely at this level is a surefire recipe for limited success.  Agility must scale and cross silos, and indeed gaining alignment across organizational boundaries was one of the big wins that participants noted in this past year’s cohort.  Leaders grew to understand how agility applied to them personally, and to their organizations.  The rise of methods like DevOps, spread of Design Thinking and Digital Transformations, application of agility to HR, sales, marketing, finance and more all echo this progression to holism.

Given the inherently adaptive nature of the agile mindset, a host of different patterns and techniques might apply depending on a leader’s specific role and situation.  This breadth of focus made the ALA program challenging to create, but beautifully variegated, and we found that there was something in it for everyone.  Technology leaders honed in on the DevOps module, HR leaders enjoyed our exploration of agile performance management, and marketeers found our jargon-free examples of business agility refreshing.  We provided numerous practical custom-built tools and frameworks to drive personal growth, plot organizational redesigns, win over fellow leaders and more.  But the most critical aspect of the program was the demonstration of how to think and strategize with agility in mind; participants left each workshop with plans that fit their situations, and evolved these approaches throughout the year.

To Certify or Not to Certify?

Evidence of a new attentiveness to prospective agile leaders’ needs is everywhere.  For instance, the Scrum Alliance has launched a new Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program, with which we have aligned the Agile Leadership Academy, and we offer standalone CAL courses too for those looking to get started.

But here’s a dirty little secret: we don’t think leaders particularly need certification, and feedback from participants supported this notion.  What they do need is a support system.  These are people leading extreme change initiatives, often in corporations employing 10,000+ people.  Such high stress roles called for ongoing mentorship, sounding boards, peer conversations and an aligned executive team.  So, while we did indeed offer certification, it was and remains more about the journey than the destination.

Getting Out of the Building

Finally, leadership isn’t something that can be optimized in the classroom alone. We got out there and visited living, breathing organizations, taking our participants on site visits to agile shops of all shapes and sizes to experience firsthand how various leaders have approached their respective organizations’ goals and challenges. This past year we visited The Motley Fool, Walmart, OPower and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, offering windows into dramatically different companies with widely differing approaches.  Everyone had their favorites.

We’re lining up another great set of visits next year. Think you’ve got a great story to share?  Let us know; perhaps your organization could be the next model for others to follow!

Onward and Upward…

All in all, it’s been a wonderful ride, and we’re busy prepping new and richer experiences for the next time around.  To those in our initial cohort, we thank you for joining us on this ride, and look forward to seeing your continued growth into the adaptive leaders our rapidly changing world needs in the years to come.  To everyone else, join us in September and see how much fun agile leadership can be!

-Arlen Bankston, Agile Leadership Academy Founder


  • Learn more about the Agile Leadership Academy 2017-2018 Program starting September 11-12
  • Register for the Agile DC Executive Summit September 13